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Are we aware of greenwashing?

By Dr Md Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh.

In 1986 an American Environmentalist, Jay Westerveld introduced the term ‘greenwashing’ in an essay on ‘hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly’ to save the environment. Greenwashing may be defined as the deceptive use of the word green in the business to mislead a perception that the products are eco-friendly.

The term is generally used when more money or time is spent for the advertisement of green products rather than spending resources on eco-friendly products. This is an activity of changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment or nature – for example, putting an image of a green field on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Eyewashing, a very similar word is highly used in our media to describe the deceptive actions to mislead the mass people.

The term “detoxification” is broadly used when the definition of toxicity for certain substance or the name of that substance is changed, so that fewer things fall under a particular classification as toxic. Another example is the renaming of sewage sludge to organic fertilizer, despite the presence of many toxic elements like lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc. Auto-vehicles cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others. But many automakers claim their vehicles as “green”, “clean” or “eco-friendly”.

There are many ways through which different companies or corporations perform greenwashing. Very often the manufacturers advertise of eco-friendly products, while the products or core business are inherently polluting or unsustainable. Some companies target advertising and public relations campaigns to exaggerate an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems. Sometimes different companies advertise or speak about ‘green commitment’, while they lobby for pending or against the environmental laws.

In our country many companies spend huge money for advertisement of products in the name of ‘organic foods’, ‘herbal medicine’, ‘herbal cosmetics’, ‘naturally extracted goods’, ‘pure foods’ ‘mineral water’, ‘eco-products’ and so on. They do not hesitate to advertise it ever since as the public’s environmental awareness is growing and for public relations strategies as well. Frequently it is observed that our brick field sector claims that they are manufacturing brick in eco-friendly manner, albeit it is one of the major environmentally hazardous sectors. In fact, they do not follow any environmental guideline; do not keep environmental track record nor use environmental or green code.

Tourism which is an innate right of people may be considered as a passport of peace and green. Recently in our country the term ‘ecotourism’ has been so much popular. What is advertised as ecotourism is simply conventional tourism enwrapped with a thin veneer of green. Eco-tourism propelled by travel agencies, tour operators, hotels, motels and resorts is a quick and superficially “green” visit within a conventional package.

Travel industries use this word for the expansion of tourism markets and lowering of trade barriers. Some run counter to the tenets of sound ecotourism. Many of them are not aware of energy and environmental conservation, water and air quality, recycling, safe management of waste and toxic materials, noise abatement and community involvement. They have no well-trained staff dedicated to strong principles of nature conservation.

Every travel agency should wear “The Green Bangladesh” sign, which will mean that they are committed to environmental improvement and peaceful tourism.

In the recent time there has been a gradual trend for many eco-tourists to be less intellectually curious, socially responsible, environmentally concerned and politically aware than in the past. Increasing number of rich travelers have begun opting for comfort over conservation.

Unless and until we all are involved in the nature conservation, beautiful destinations may not be here for future generations to enjoy. We should leave only footprints and take only snaps. We should not buy products made from endangered plants or animals, such as ivory, tortoise shell, animal skins, and feathers.

Many countries of the world have framed laws to stop greenwashing. So far, most of the developed countries have made progress in stopping greenwash. There are many recent, positive examples of industry groups cracking down on false environmental claims; especially in Europe. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of USA has provided guidelines for environmental marketing claims. The FTC has the right to prosecute false and misleading advertisement claims. Australia has modified the Trade Practices Act to punish the companies those provide misleading environmental claims. Any guilty organization may face up to 1.1 million dollar in fines. Norwegian government has forbidden the car manufacturers from claiming that their automobiles are environmentally friendly on the basis of other cars manufactured by other companies.

The Canadian Competition Bureau and Standards Association are discouraging the companies from making “vague claims” towards their products. The advertising authority in the UK recently asked the Malaysian Palm Oil Council to pull misleading television ad that ran on the BBC. The ads claimed that palm oil was eco-friendly, and used green images and statements, such as “A gift from nature, a gift for life”, “Helping the planet breathe” and “Sustainably produced since 1917.” In France, the consumer protection agency determined that cars should no longer be portrayed in nature, as is a common practice in auto advertising. Instead, they must only be shown on roads and other routes open to traffic, where they are typically used. Now it is the time for us to frame new laws and to enforce those laws against environmental marketing claims.

How to reduce or stop greenwasing?

-Making new laws and regulations to monitor greenwashing and punish the companies those provide misleading environmental claims

-Providing a guideline for environmental marketing claims

-Prohibiting the usage of environmentally friendly image on the product which has no environmental impacts

-Presenting an environmental marketing claim in a way that makes clear whether the environmental attribute or benefit being asserted refers to the product, the product’s packaging, a service or to a portion or component of the product, package or service

-Not presenting an environmental marketing claim in a manner that overstates the environmental attribute or benefit, expressly or by implication

-Avoiding implications of significant environmental benefits if the benefit is in fact negligible

-Presenting a comparative statement of the environmental marketing claims in a manner that makes the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear to avoid consumer deception

-Stopping the frequent use of green colour in the logos of different companies

-Avoiding the use of the word like ‘clean’ or ‘green’ where coal is used in manufacturing

-Strictly controlling the claim of “Pure and Natural” diapers or water in packaging

-Creating a green hub for promoting sustainable products

-Initiating green audit to evaluate the performances of the companies towards nature conservation

-Charging money for the use of plastic bags

-Rating environmental claims and measuring greenwashing index

-Making real changes in policies and practices of the companies

-Looking beneath the green veneer and holding corporations accountable, by the media

-Raising voices by the consumers against greenwashing

-Reforming ad standards and corporate codes of conduct

This article is written by Dr. Md. Mizanur Rahman , a biodiversity specialist, is Assistant Commissioner, Jhalakathi Collectorate. E-mail: mizan_peroj

The article was first published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh, the original article published on 2011.02.26.

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Posted in Bangladesh, Development, Education and qualification, Market knowledge, Performance and management, Policy, Sale and marketing, Sustainability.

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